By MADDY VITALE
Abby Powell has been the president of the Sea Isle City Historical Society & Museum since 2017 and each year since then, she’s worked hard to showcase what the community and its history are all about.
Powell moved to the tight-knit community in 2014. And after just a few years, members of the museum’s Board of Trustees and other residents quickly learned that she had a lot to offer, not only as a volunteer, but as a leader who would take the already-successful museum to an even higher level, attracting all ages to show them the wealth of history that lies within the shore town.
Powell, a Kansas native who lived in Yardley, Pa., for years, visited Sea Isle before making it her permanent home.
She has used some of her Midwestern friendly nature, charm and talents to work well with the museum board and the 20 volunteers.
In an interview Monday, just hours after she stepped off a plane from spending her holiday in Kansas, Powell said, “The museum would not be what it is without the wonderful, dedicated volunteers that we have.”
So, what can guests expect to see at the museum in 2020?
“For 2020 we will keep changing the display cases around,” Powell said. “Usually a display idea is connected to something else.”
She explained that one of her rotating displays, smaller sections that feature more frequently changing items, is a Daylight Savings area featuring a variety of clocks.
The plan is also to revamp displays, including the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol exhibit, which was the museum’s centerpiece for several months and is currently located at the back of the building.
“That is a little project of ours we are working on,” Powell noted. “The biggest thing I have done for the museum is to change the museum displays, the big displays.”
Powell said for 2020 she would like to see more organizations, school field trips and any other organization to come in and visit.
“We want to invite people to see what we have,” she said. “We don’t charge admission to the museum. It is free.”
To learn a bit more about some of Powell’s ideas, one only needs to get a glimpse of some of her successful displays in 2019.
One of the year’s highlights was the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol display as the featured exhibit of the museum. It was created in celebration of the Beach Patrol’s 100th anniversary in July.
A centerpiece exhibit prior to the beach patrol was a vintage wedding gown display. A smaller section displays some of the gowns now.
“The Beach Patrol was the first change of displays and we did that for the 100th anniversary,” Powell said. “That is what drove us to take the wedding gowns down and put up the Beach Patrol in their place.”
She explained it was the culmination of everyone’s work. “The board and all the volunteers — everybody had a little bit of input and it came together perfectly,” she said.
The next major display, which replaced the Beach Patrol as the main exhibit, was a military-themed exhibit titled “Home for the Holidays.”
A service uniform and a wedding gown worn by Joe and Alice LaRosa are prominently displayed in the center of the military exhibit, highlighting the love and marriage of a local couple on April 14, 1945, just months before the end of World War II.
The exhibit was created in time for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. The entire display brims with period pieces, from a record player with big band leader Glenn Miller’s albums to WWII memorabilia.
Powell said the decision to create a military display was an easy one.
“When we had the bridal display up, we did have one military uniform, for Alice and Joe LaRosa’s wedding. That made me think, we could do the opposite with military uniforms and a bride,” she noted.
She added that there has been so much positive feedback about the display.
“People didn’t realize there were military uniforms in the back of the museum. By having them on display as we do now, the names of the people who served are visible, and it makes it more special for the veterans,” Powell pointed out.
The display will be up until next summer, she said.
The museum is not a large space, but Powell admits she and her team do some ingenious arranging.
“We have limited space and it is a talent to move things around and create new displays, and we try to do that constantly,” she said. “We have display cases inside the library lobby, too, that we change up as well.”
Each year the museum hosts open houses, one over the Christmas holiday, the other in the summer. There are also events and activities in between.
In 2019, Powell created an art show that featured 11 local artists. She hopes that the number of artists doubles for the next show on May 30.
“It is not a fundraiser. It is for artists to showcase their art at the museum,” she said. “I was looking for another event to attract the public to the museum.”
A popular event for children is the “Here Comes Summer” open house on June 13.
For 2020, Powell hopes to introduce a pie baking contest into the mix of family-friendly fun.
“The open house is directed at the kids,” she said. “We have old-fashioned games like sack races. The parents really get involved, too.”
Over the last two years, Powell said she really has tried to come up with inventive ways to draw kids and their families into the museum. The scavenger hunt, created prior to Powell taking over as president, runs from May through the summer and is a popular attraction.
“Last year we had over 300 kids come through the scavenger hunt and it was incredible,” she noted. “We were able to create a scavenger hunt album. Any kids who went to the scavenger hunt are in the museum photos forever now. It’s kind of cute.”
Powell said the museum staff is always interested in looking at items people have that are Sea Isle specific. They are also looking for photos of the Sea Isle carousel before it was destroyed in the 1962 storm.
To fund the operations, the museum depends on donations.
“Our annual membership dues are how we pay for the newsletter, and the pavers for the Memorial Garden program is one of our biggest fundraisers,” Powell said. “We invite donations. That is how we survive.”
Powell’s current term as president is up in April 2020, but she plans to seek reappointment. She said there is no doubt in her mind that she will want to remain at the helm of the museum she adores, in the community she loves.
“I suppose what I appreciate most is the fact that I have learned so much about Sea Isle, its past and its present,” she said. “I have gotten to meet so many wonderful people and I feel so fortunate to be able to give back to the city.”
For more information about the Sea Isle City Historical Society & Museum, visit www.seaislemuseum.com or call (609) 263-2992.